July 15, 2010
By Doug Demmons
Is there a more irrelevant race on the entire NASCAR schedule than Homestead?
You’d think that the last race of the year would be packed with all the drama and tension you’d get from a Yankees-Red Sox series in late September.
That should be especially true with the Chase, which was implemented specifically to add inject drama and tension into a sport that goes door-to-door with the NFL. But there hasn’t been a dramatic finish at Homestead since the first year of the Chase in 2004, when Kurt Busch won by a fender.
There’s a reason why Homestead is one of four tracks that Jimmie Johnson has never won at. He doesn’t need to. By the time Johnson gets to south Florida it’s all over but the shouting.
After six years NASCAR has figured out that this is not a good thing. That’s why you hear rumblings that changes are coming to the Chase. That’s why you hear Brian France talking about the need for big moments.
That’s why NASCAR is going to keep tweaking the Chase until they get what they want -- a down-to-the-wire championship battle.
Right now they don’t have that. Right now they have a driver who has taken NASCAR’s contrived playoff format and mastered it. The No. 48 team has played the Chase like a Stradivarius -- with the exception of Talladega, which is too unpredictable for even Chad Knaus to engineer.
But the trial balloons that have been floated so far -- expanding the Chase to 15 drivers and having some type of elimination process -- won’t cut it.
Expanding the field to 15 drivers has its good points and bad points. Most sports qualify a higher percentage of their teams into their post-seasons than NASCAR does. But other sports divide their competitors into divisions, so there are usually more teams vying for playoff spots at the end of the regular season.
It doesn’t work that way in NASCAR. Right now, points leader Kevin Harvick would have to be arrested and jailed to miss the Chase. So Harvick’s team can spent the last half of the summer experimenting with new setups because it doesn’t matter how he finishes between now and Richmond.
Expand the Chase to 15 drivers and more drivers will be in that position.
There is also an idea out there to have some kind of elimination process. For instance, after the first five races of the Chase the bottom half of the field might be eliminated.
Sounds good, but it won’t accomplish what NASCAR is looking for. Does NASCAR really want to eliminate Kyle Busch from the mix because he got a little too aggressive at New Hampshire and finished 32nd?
An elimination process would just encourage drivers to be even more conservative than they already are in the first half of the Chase.
There’s a better way, a simpler way to accomplish what NASCAR wants.
Escalate the points.
As the Chase progresses, increase the number of points awarded for first through fifth place. Make the gap between first and second, second and third, etc. greater as the Chase progresses. By the time the series gets to Homestead, winning would be worth 100 points more than second place.
Winning a race at Phoenix or at Homestead would reap far more points that at New Hampshire.
So a driver who went for broke at New Hampshire in September and lost wouldn’t be out of it by Halloween. By going for broke at Texas, Phoenix or Homestead in November a driver could still win the championship.
And a driver like Johnson who had amassed a comfortable lead couldn’t sit back at Homestead with the knowledge he only needed to finish 15th to win it all.
Speaking of Homestead, why is it still the final race of the year?
The last race of the year needs to be at Las Vegas. As hard as it might be for NASCAR to admit that Bruton Smith is right about something, he is right about this.
Move Homestead to the second race of the year in February, allowing teams a short drive from Daytona. Give the final race to Las Vegas.
Doug Demmons is a writer and editor for the Birmingham News ~ he writes daily and weekly auto racing columns ranging from NASCAR to open wheel to Formula One, local tracks and more... you can read Doug's columns online at Blog of Tommorow
Follow Doug on Twitter: @dougdemmons
The thoughts and ideas expressed by this writer or any other writer on Insider Racing News, are not necessarily the views of the staff and/or management of IRN.